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Report: Thousands of U.S.-Born Kids Languish in Foster Care as Immigrant Parents Detained, Deported

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A new report looks at how thousands of U.S.-born children are being sent to foster care when their non-U.S. citizen parents are detained or deported. The Applied Research Center investigation, “Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System,” finds there are at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care, who are prevented from uniting with their detained or deported parents. If nothing changes, researchers found some 15,000 more children may end up in foster care in the next five years. We speak with Seth Freed Wessler, the principal investigator of the report. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, continuing with immigration news, we turn now to a major new report that looks at thousands of U.S.-born children whose parents are detained or deported. It is called “Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System.” According to the report, there are at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care who are prevented from uniting with their detained or deported parents. If nothing changes, researchers found 15,000 more children may end up in foster care in the next five years.

AMY GOODMAN: The Applied Research Center estimates the U.S. deported more than 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children between January and June of this year. The figures reflect a striking increase in the rate of removals of parents and raise serious concerns about the impact of these deportations on children, many of whom are left behind. The Center says most child welfare departments lack systemic policies to keep families united when parents are detained or deported.

We’re joined here in New York City by Seth Wessler, a senior researcher at the Applied Research Center, principal investigator for the new report, “Shattered Families.” Seth is also a staff writer for ColorLines_. His recent deportation.html”>article, “Thousands of Kids Taken from Parents in U.S. Deportation System.”

Seth, lay out what you have found, how kids are separated from their parents and put into foster care here.

SETH FREED WESSLER: Well, the Applied Research Center found that there are at least 5,000 children who are now stuck in foster care, and they’re stuck there because their parents have been detained or deported. The United States has, in the last year, deported a historic number of people: 400,000 people. And one of the most troubling collateral effects of that, that we found after a year-long investigation, is that many children are now separated from their mothers and fathers for extended periods of time, sometimes permanently. Sometimes they never see their parents again.

I spent days on end inside of detention centers scattered around the United States—in Arizona, in Florida, in Texas. And I spoke with parents who were separated from their children. I met parents who had no idea where their children were, except that they were stuck in foster care. They didn’t know who they were with, and they had lost all contact with the child welfare system. Immigration detention effectively severs the critical line of communication that’s necessary between families and the child welfare system in order to keep children together. And draconian immigration enforcement policies are really the driver here.

So, I met a woman inside of a detention center in Arizona who was picked up by one of Joe Arpaio’s deputies. And she was picked up because she called police to report domestic violence. She and her abuser were arrested. But instead of them being released—her children were put in foster care at the time of the arrest. Instead of being released, she was held in immigration detention, is now facing deportation, and she has no idea where her children are.

This is something we heard happen all over the country. There are 22 states that we identified where there are parents and children who are separated because of this intersection of immigration enforcement and the foster care system. And there may be many more.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, let me ask you, when—during the big workplace raids in 2006, ’07 and ’08, the Bush administration came under a lot of criticism about the separation of families. And ICE adopted a policy, supposedly, where parents who had children would be released with ankle bracelets to maintain the families together. Is this now ICE policy, or is this a situation where local governments are taking matters into their own hands?

SETH FREED WESSLER: It’s a result of a number of things. I mean, ICE has said, and consistently says, that parents get to choose what happens to their children if they’re deported. The reality is, that our research and our investigation has found, that’s simply not happening. Now, ICE protocols for protecting families are really antiquated. They apply to old forms of immigration enforcement that were relevant when there were these workplace raids. Now we’re talking about the expansion of immigration enforcement to local police departments and where local police are now tasked with the job of immigration enforcement. So, as I described, there are people being picked up by local cops and then funneled into the detention process without any regard for their families, where their families are. These children are losing their parents. I met a foster father who said that the child he’s cared for has been in his care for a year, has forgotten Spanish, her mother’s language, and now are facing significant barriers to being reunified. That family may never come back together.

AMY GOODMAN: Seth, what needs to happen?

SETH FREED WESSLER: Well, first of all, we need to stop the clock on the detention and deportation and the child welfare process for these families. We also need to think about and implement alternatives to detention. Detaining massive numbers of parents is simply going to produce these sorts of outcomes. I mean, we found, through a Freedom of Information Act request, that there are 46,000 parents deported in the first six months of this year.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this unprecedented?

SETH FREED WESSLER: It’s unprecedented. It is a huge increase in number and proportion of total deportations that are parents. And the collateral effect is going—are going to grow and grow and grow. This is amongst the most troubling that I’ve seen, and we spent—we dug pretty deeply to find it.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s also very possible it will lead to the deaths of women and children, because if women are afraid to report domestic violence, it means that they often will stay with their abuser.

SETH FREED WESSLER: Absolutely right. There are people who stayed—that I met in detention, who stayed for years in terribly violent relationships, because they feared deportation, and then finally called police and were detained and are facing deportation. And then, we have a situation where people are coming back for their children, after having been deported, and are being incarcerated in jails on criminal charges because of that deep-seated desire to be with their families. So—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Did you get any sense of the number of U.S. citizen children who end up leaving the country with their deported parents, because that’s the only way to stay together?

SETH FREED WESSLER: Many U.S. citizen kids do leave with their parents. Of those 46,000 parents in six months, almost 100,000 in a year, many go with their parents. Many are separated for long periods of time and stay here with extended family. And what we found is that some are actually permanently separated. Those families are shattered entirely.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us. We’ll link to your report, Seth Freed Wessler, a senior researcher at Applied Research Center, a staff writer for ColorLines magazine. His piece is called “Thousands of Kids Taken from Parents in U.S. Deportation System.”

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